In his June 27, 1863 letter to his wife, Lt. Colonel Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry posed a question- “Our marches have been long and tiresome. What do you think of trudging along all day in a soaking rain, getting just as wet as a drowned rat, taking
supper on hardtack and salt pork and then wrapping up in a wet woolen blanket in a wedge tent that only makes the rain more tantalizing, being waked up and three or four times to attend to orders, and turning out finally at three in the morning to get the command ready to move?”
Though he was an officer, Dawes’ vivid question could also be that given by any soldier in the army during the Gettysburg Campaign- days of wet misery interspersed with days under a broiling hot sun, each man bearing the burden of equipment he would need not only to fight but to also have a minimum of comfort. It has been 150 years since Union and Confederate soldiers trod over the farmland that became the battlefield of Gettysburg.
The brief stay of these two massive armies at Gettysburg made for one of the most memorable and most often discussed battles of the Civil War, with an effect reaching far beyond the battleground. The experience in the park is to not only understand the events that occurred here but to also discover the two forces arrayed in blue and gray that fought this monumental battle who whose veterans returned years later to place monuments to their regiment on the field.
We know who won the battle and who lost, but who were the soldiers of these two great
armies that faced each other on this and other battlefields again and again? What motivated these soldiers in blue and gray to serve their respective causes, to determine whether this nation might live? And how did they march and maneuver to gain the advantage on key ground?
Though neither the “Army of the Potomac” nor the “Army of Northern Virginia” would ever return to fight again in Pennsylvania, the spirit of these armies survives today with the volunteers who donate their time, money and expertise for our living history encampments and the National Park Service is proud to have two definitive organizations volunteer their time over the 150th Anniversary observance. The living history encampments will run from July 1 through 3, 2013, with daily demonstrations of camp and soldier life in the 1860’s. The encampment sites are Pitzer Woods, Auto Tour Stop No.6 for Confederate and the Pennsylvania Monument, Auto Tour Stop No. 12, for Union, both being the traditional sites for living history camps during the summer months.
The Union Camp near the Pennsylvania Monument will feature the “National Regiment”, an organization of Union Civil War units from Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and the New England area. Commanded by Tom Downes, the infantry camp will represent what one may have seen on the battlefield 150 years ago and operate as a military camp throughout the day. Likewise, the Union artillery camp nearby will have displays and programs featuring a full six-gun battery. Nearby will be the camp of the US Christian Commission and a contingent of the Society of Union Surgeons, who will discuss and demonstrate medical practices that took place in the field hospitals near town.
Artillery demonstration times: 10 AM and 2 PM
Infantry demonstration times: 11 AM and 3 PM
The Confederate Camp at Pitzer Woods will feature the “Confederate Military Forces”, an organization of various Confederate groups from Maryland, Virginia, and other areas on the east coast, commanded by Curtis Utz. Southern infantry was quite different from their northern counterparts and the Confederate camp will reflect those differences during the three day event. A full four gun battery, typical of many southern artillery units, will also be on display with firing demonstrations.
Artillery demonstration times: 11:30 AM and 2:30 PM
Infantry demonstration times: 10:30 AM and 1:30 PM
The camps will be open to the public from 9 AM to 5 PM daily. Please note that there will be no demonstrations after 12 noon of July 3 as both living history groups will be involved in the Pickett’s Charge commemorative walks.
Battlefield communications were critical during the Civil War and Gettysburg was no exception! A chosen group of soldiers used flags to send messages and provide critical information to battlefield commanders throughout the battle, the most notable signal station established on a large boulder on the summit of Little Round Top where signalmen first advised army command of the Southern assault on the Union left on July 2, 1863, in
what would be the bloodiest day of the battle. The Union Signals Group under the command of Lieutenant Samuel Foster will have daily demonstrations from two signal stations, the first near Meade’s Headquarters and the second at the historic signal corps station on Little Round Top. Demonstrations of signal communications will run from 9 to 5 daily. Visitors are encouraged to compose and send messages between the two stations.
It’s easy to see there will be a lot going on over the 150th Anniversary and visitors to the living history camps may find their own answers to the question Colonel Dawes posed to his wife on that damp, miserable June evening- “Well, that’s soldiering.”
Historian, Gettysburg NMP